DeSantis, University of Florida sued over SJP ban – Mondoweiss
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the administration at the University of Florida are being sued over the state’s ban on a Palestine campus group.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) , the ACLU of Florida and Palestine Legal filed the lawsuit on behalf of the University of Florida’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The groups say that students’ First Amendment rights have been violated by the move.
“Free speech is a foundational value of our democracy, and our right to discover new perspectives — and share our own — relies on the robust protection of free speech on public college and university campuses,” tweeted the ACLU. “In Healy v. James, the Supreme Court was clear: ‘Nowhere is free speech more important than in our leading institutions of higher learning.’ Florida’s deactivation order chills speech, fosters an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and violates the First Amendment.”
“If Florida officials think silencing pro-Palestinian students protects the Jewish community – or anyone, they’re wrong. This attack on free speech is dangerous: today it is pro-Palestinian students, tomorrow it could be any other group the governor’s dislikes,” said ACLU of Florida interim executive director Howard Simon in a statement.“We recognize colleges are contending with how to manage increased threats and rising tensions on their campuses while keeping students safe — and we take the weight and complexity of these challenges seriously. But it is precisely in times of heightened crisis and fear that government officials, including Gov. DeSantis and University Chancellor Rodrigues, must remain steadfast in their obligations to respect free speech, open debate, and peaceful dissent on campus.”
Last month, DeSantis coordinated with State University System of Florida chancellor Ray Rodrigues to announce that SJP chapters should be “deactivated” throughout the state, accusing the group of support for terrorism because National SJP put out a toolkit saying that, “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.”
“Based on the National SJP’s support of terrorism, in consultation with Governor DeSantis, the student chapters must be deactivated,” reads the letter to the school’s state universities by Rodrigues. “These two student chapters may form another organization that complies with Florida state statutes and university policies. The two institutions should grant these two chapters a waiver for the fall deadlines, should reapplication take place.”
Multiple U.S. universities have taken action against campus Palestine groups since then. Earlier this month Brandeis University became the first school to ban its SJP chapter. “We have never been told we were under investigation in any way,” the group’s president told Mondoweiss. “We never notified about anything. The email came as a shock to us. It came from student affairs, it didn’t come from a student union or a department. It came from higher up and no one had a say in this.”
“Brandeis has always been unsupportive of Palestinian students and one of our goals is to provide a safe environment for Palestinians on campus,” they continued. “If they want to target Palestinian students then they might as well silence the only organization that supports them.”
Columbia University suspended their SJP chapter and their Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) chapter for allegedly violating the campus rules on holding events. The move came after an “unauthorized” walkout and subsequent art installation. In response to the news, more than 40 Columbia student organizations formed a coalition to oppose the move and call for the school to divest from Israeli apartheid.
Most recently, George Washington University announced that it was suspending its SJP chapter for three months because the group projected pro-Palestine images on the campus library. “We see this very clearly as being a political response to a growing wave of backlash and repression towards Palestinian organizing, but specifically the Palestinian student movement that’s been happening the past few weeks,” said a representative from the group.
“Throughout history, students have been central actors in ending segregation, war, and apartheid — and Students for Justice in Palestine sits squarely in that tradition. It is precisely because these principled students pose a challenge to the status quo that they are being targeted with McCarthyist censorship, but the First Amendment simply does not allow for it,” said Palestine Legal director Dima Khalidi in a statement on the Florida lawsuit. “As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza unfolds, we can’t let elected officials and university leaders stigmatize groups speaking out for Palestinian human rights. The voices of SJP chapters are more important than ever.”
Universities and colleges across the country have seen consistent protests since Israel’s attack on Gaza began in October. So far, more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed.
At Mondoweiss, we understand the power of telling Palestinian stories. For 17 years, we have pushed back when the mainstream media published lies or echoed politicians’ hateful rhetoric. Now, Palestinian voices are more important than ever.
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